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Tracy will fight plan to keep Lathrop whole

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POSTED August 1, 2014 1:23 a.m.

Tracy Unified School District Superintendent Brian Stephens hopes River Islands at Lathrop’s plans to become a part of Manteca Unified will not happen.

But when it does, Stephens made it known that Tracy Unified will not go away without a fight.

“A mitigation agreement and terms of cost sharing was worked out by their attorneys and our attorneys. As far as we’re concerned that’s what’s in place. The district feels that it has a legal document that handles the growth of the River Islands community. We think it was developed in good faith by the developer and the district. We intend to meet all our obligations and expect that they meet theirs,” said Stephens who expressed surprise that he was never informed beforehand about River Islands’ proposed reorganization presentation before the Manteca Unified Board of Trustees Tuesday night.

He did receive an email from River Islands Project Manager Susan Dell’Osso last Saturday, “but the email just said ‘meet with me;’ no specifics mentioned,” said Stephens who came on board as head of Tracy Unified just a month ago.

Their meeting is scheduled sometime next week. The proposal by River Islands would put all of Lathrop’s students into one school district.

“Nobody from River Islands has communicated that to me,” he said about the developers’ proposal and being placed on the school board agenda.

“I find that interesting. It doesn’t seem all that appropriate,” he added.

He never had any communication about the subject with Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer either, he said.

However, “we did consult with our attorney and sent our opinion to Manteca Unified where we think we stand on this,” Stephens said in a telephone interview Wednesday, the day after the board meeting.

A reorganization, or a transfer of district territory from Tracy Unified to Manteca Unified, would have a huge fiscal impact to the former. Each student attendance translates to ADA (Average Daily Attendance) funds received from the state which financially powers the schools’ operation.

“I certainly think its impact would be huge. There’s cost associated with educating students. That’s the way the system works in our state,” he said of the ADA school funding mechanism. As the River Islands development grows and student population increases accordingly, “we’d get income for serving (our students), but we’re also incurring expenditures to have them as well,” Stephens explained.

Tracy Unified has a total enrollment of 17,000. Manteca Unified’s student population stands at 23,000.

“If I was the superintendent of Banta Elementary School District, I’d be disturbed” by what River Islands is proposing, he said.

Telephone messages seeking comments from Banta School District Superintendent Albert Garibaldi were not returned as of press time.

Stephens said Tracy Unified’s board trustees have been “brought up to speed on this issue.”

 He also reiterated that he believes “Tracy Unified is within its legal means to protect its rights to its full extent. I think any district would do that.”

While reorganizations or territory transfers such as what River Islands is seeking have had precedence in the past, “this is sort of unique in that the developer is driving this,” Stephens said.

In the absence of residents actually living at River Islands, which has yet to have one residential unit occupied, the law states that the developer can proceed as the one seeking the reorganization.

Stephens said they will continue to follow the language of the agreement hammered between River Islands and Tracy Unified.

“We hope Manteca would respect the agreement that we have. I’m sure he (Messer) is going to do the right thing for his district. It’s my sincere hope that cool heads come together in this issue. I have faith in people that put the needs of kids first” and will make decisions with that in mind, said Stephens.

The presentation given at the board meeting Tuesday night was only exploratory in nature. Although it was placed under action items on the agenda, no decision was made by the board other than giving direction to the district’s legal counsel to be involved in the initial investigation process, and for the superintendent to schedule study sessions in the future on this subject.

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